Collaboration goes a long way out west

In my blog of 12 May 2017 I shared information about the great outcomes we were seeing in Aboriginal communities as a result of our work with the Aboriginal Housing Office funded Tenant Support and Education Project (TSEP) and Origin Energy

The project, which started in April 2017, is a fabulous example of the benefits of collaboration and effective partnerships. In May 2018, after 13 months of road trips to 10 outback communities, we found ourselves reflecting on what we had achieved in visiting these vibrant communities. Each trip involved visiting a number of communities over a three or four day period:  

  • Wilcannia, Menindee and Dareton
  • Goodooga, Lake Cargelligo and Gulargambone
  • Coonamble and Walgett
  • Brewarrina and Bourke

Early in 2017, Andrew Smith from TSEP approached EWON seeking us to partner with his team and deliver Power and Water Usage Workshops to the 10 communities it services. EWON suggested a Bring Your Bills day element be added so community members could also get individual assistance with their electricity bills at the event. 

With TSEP’s agreement, we put ourselves out on a limb and approached Origin Energy to see if it would also participate. The idea was to see if we could build effective and beneficial relationships directly between communities and their energy provider; relationships that would extend beyond the life of the project. This would mean EWON would have to carefully manage our independence and at the same time, be seen as a partner to one of our industry members. Origin, as the largest energy retailer in regional and remote NSW, took up the challenge, understanding it would need to make staff available and that real engagement would mean visiting each group of communities twice.  Of course, between each visit, staff from each organisation – TSEP, EWON and Origin - had day jobs to manage too!

A range of government agencies and community organisations were also invited to attend the event so that together, we could all provide a ‘one stop shop’ for members of the community experiencing affordability challenges. Across the 20 events, 213 support services attended including Legal Aid, NSW Fair Trading, the Aboriginal Legal Service, the Anti-Discrimination Board, financial councillors, NDIS educators and Energy Accounts Payment Assistance (EAPA) Scheme providers, as well as many more local services. 

Origin Energy provided direct support to its customers, while EWON assisted customers of other energy providers. Initially some Origin customers also sought our assistance – perhaps for reassurance – but overtime developed a trusted relationship with Origin.

During the second round of visits to these communities, TSEP added their Family Fun day initiative to these events. This brought a new level of energy and fun to each day with arts and crafts, traditional dance, Indigenous role models to chat with and music by well-known Aboriginal artists.  And this of course brought more people to each event.

The collaboration had truly outstanding results: 

  • 872 people attended the Power and Water Usage Workshops
  • 1,771 people attended the Bring Your Bills and Family Fun days
  • 99.6% of attendees surveyed found the workshops enjoyable and  the information useful
  • 98.5% of attendees increased their knowledge of support programs and services available to assist them
  • 97.8% of attendees have more confidence to engage with their energy company in the future.

I encourage you to view our shared video which was filmed in Gulargambone on a hot summer’s day in February 2018:

Project finished – not by a long shot!  We’re just starting to make a real difference so we are now planning the next stage of this collaborative approach to bringing significant change to the communities we work with across NSW.

Involving an energy retailer turned out to be a great success, with Origin Energy reporting the following results:

  • the customers they met with face-to-face were more likely to make regular payments.
  • 91% of the customers who signed up to Origin’s ‘Power On’ hardship program during these visits maintained their payment arrangement. 
  • a significant number of customers also signed up for energy efficiency visits, with 80% reducing their energy bills as a result and saving on average $770 a year.

Origin Energy wrote the following about its experience. 

“EWON’s ‘Bring Your Bills’ days, where customers present their bills to the Ombudsman and participating retailers, to get an understanding of their energy costs, obtain hardship assistance and find better offers, has proven to be a useful community outreach program and is a good way of engaging customers without access to the internet.”

We produced the above following video to showcase the results of this very successful collaboration. I hope you enjoy it!